Roon for sure is an exceptional piece of software when it comes to digital music playback combined with extended functionality. In the end it’s delivering a great overall experience that goes far beyond the capabilities of usual playback software such as iTunes, Spotify or other free out-of-the box players. As I mentioned in my article there are plenty of things to like about Roon. But it is not flawless. Especially given the pricing that starts at € 119 per year.
1. Pricing Policy
Speaking about money directly leads me to the first bone of contention. It is of course totally understand- and acceptable that a product with this functional scope and quality standard cannot come for free. In fact I’m more or less ok with the annual payment of € 119 which breaks down to € 10 per month. This is the amount of money that many of us accept as monthly fee for music and/or video streaming.
What really annoys me is roonlabs’ latest adjustment of the lifetime membership price. Going up from $ 499 to $ 699 for the lifetime data service! Obviously I’m not the only one who thinks this is some kind of “bold” move as Roon Labs’ COO Danny Dulai came to the conclusion to shed some light on this topic in their community.
The reasoning there is focused straightforwardly on their financial business metrics. From their point of view it’s the best idea regarding a healthy and sustainable development of their business to push the annual payment while making the one-off lifetime payment increasingly unattractive. They are trying to build a steady revenue stream to keep the cashflow predict- and reliable as foundation for long term business development. A single cash injection based upon an announcement in advance of the price increase would not have been attractive to them in their current business stage.
Actually I do completly understand their line of argument (and I’m impressed by the fact that they never had to raise external money as a young company). Still from a customer’s perspective the price adjustment leaves a bad taste in my mouth. It feels like I missed the opportunity to get the lifetime membership and I’m “doomed” to stay with the annual subscription forever now. This whole thing will be even more painfull whenever they decide to raise the price of the annual subscription!
If you have been with us for a year or even longer, it may sting to have lost out here, but you had ample time to convert to a lifetime. If we let everyone do this now, we’d be gorging ourselves on junk food.
The annual is STILL $119 for a year. That’s $10 a month. If Roon isn’t worth $10 a month to you, then we are doing something wrong and you should go elsewhere. It certainly brings me more joy than $10 every month, and our business vision is to do the same for every one of our subscribers.
I’m just not sure if this is the best way of communication and how to treat customers. Given the fact that they defined a very narrow fraction of users that are entitled to profit from the old pricing it even feels worse. I do appreciate the transparency of the (business) thought process and understand the overall reasoning but still this is a nuisance to me.
Spoiler: They think about completely eliminating the lifetime option.
2. The need for (powerful) hardware
Roon pursues the worthwhile approach of delivering the best possible product experience. Unfortunately this central idea comes at a cost. In this case the cost is hidden in the necessary hardware to unleash the full potential of the software.
There are two aspects to be noted when speaking about hardware: 1. Roon needs a standalone machine to run as the so called “roon core” within the overall roon (network) architecture. 2. This central media server needs to be rather powerfull in terms of its hardware specifications. While it still should be possible to run Roon on certain well-equipped NAS setups it is strongly recommended to use a relatively powerful machine for unrestricted usability. System requirements will vary with the size of your music collection but the minimum recommendation is described as follows:
Intel Core i3, Ivy Bridge+
SSD boot drive
1440 x 900 Resolution
In the end that means you always have to run a (seperate) machine as the backbone of your roon experience. For me being very familiar with running various desktop PCs and denying the trend for small screen devices as a possible replacement this is no big deal. Still it is one more device that somehow needs to be operated in an always-on mode. You need to keep this in mind when thinking about long-term Roon usage.
3. Sometimes it’s sluggish
As mentioned above Roon relies on a network setup that is a little bit more sophisticated than it might be obvious at first sight. The required Roon core, your audio endpoints as well as the control and storage devices in your network come with further restrictions and recommendations:
Your Roon Core should always have a wired connection.
Always ensure that both your Core and storage location are using a wired connection. Avoid WiFi between your Core and media storage at all costs.
Avoid connecting high resolution/high performance audio devices to Roon via WiFi to ensure optimal performance.
While these prerequisites make perfect sense from a performance standpoint, they cannot always be met easily in real life. My flat does not have ethernet connections in every room. Additionally my devices are spread across all rooms differently: endpoints are in every room. The Roon core is located in the office while the NAS can be found in the living room. iOS devices are flying around everywhere. The router is somewhere in the middle.
What I’m trying to explain here is, that it’s impossible for me to realize wired connections in between all the crucial parts of the Roon setup. Unfortunately this leeds to performance cutbacks in certain scenarios. Therefore I’m regularly experiencing drawbacks in the overall user experience. This is especially bothersome whenever you would expect a single interaction to happen more or less instantly like skipping a track.
Sure these limitations are home-brewed and caused by my individual network setup. Irrespective of that I’m under the impression that I’m not the only one. Looking through the Roon community several threats can be found all covering the topic of poor performance. Especially slow to poor to unbearable performance in conjunction with TIDAL seems to be an recurring pain-point.
4. Missing Export Functionality
Roon never forgets is one of the five things I really like about it. The “History” functionality is actually a rather small feature of the overall functional range Roon has to offer but I still like it a lot. What really bothers me about it is the fact that you cannot export the history data (anymore) to Excel or any other external application. I would love to dig deeper into my listening data to further analyze my habits and developments over time. Sadly this path is blocked by the fact that you cannot export your own data.
This is particularly irritating as it seems that this feature was available in earlier versions of the software. Obviously it was somehow lost in the further development process and was not re-integrated anymore later on 🙁
Of course I do know that I could use the last.fm audioscrobbler in conjunction with Roon. It just doesn’t make sense to me to create another account with one more service to collect my own data externally that is already there. I just do not want to do this. Please bring back the export functionality.
5. Multi-room playback
In essence Roon is capable of multi-room playback. Certain limitations do apply to this statement. You cannot group all of your available endpoints in all imaginable ways. Depending on the underlying transport technology not all of them will be compatible with each other.
Sonos is per se fully supported by Roon. Therefore grouping of Sonos devices in your Roon network is possible. RAAT based endpoints can also be combined without restrictions. But it is not possible to build groups of Sonos devices together with other RAAT based endpoints. In fact you need to stay with a single device type to create a zone: RAAT works with RAAT. Airplay goes together with Airplay. Squeezebox likes Squeezebox and so on.
Fair enough. No major constraint in overall user experience here. But there is one huge killjoy I experience reguarly in zone playback and it’s massive. For me it is impossible to achieve synchronous playback within any given zone. Playback of different songs on various different endpoints is easily done. Playback of the same song within a zone-grouped selection of endpoints seems to be impossible. At least if you want to listen to it synchronously. I’m not talking about minuscule differences that can hardly be heard. There are major differences in timing and it’s happening quickly after playback has started.
Considering my Roon core to be relatively powerfull (Intel i7 3770k, 16GB, ssd) I would exclude that as a potential bottleneck. As mentioned in section 3 my network setup is far away from being perfectly optimized but still I would expect more. Before I started to use Roon, my (wifi based) Sonos setup was the standalone solution for multi-room playback. It consistently delivered perfect synchronicity across all rooms and devices. I do know that Sonos is limited to 48kHz/16 bit or 1,536 kpbs but this playback performance is exactly what I expect to be delivered by a soft-/hardware setup like Roon.